Urinary incontinence is more common as we age, especially among women. It’s unclear exactly how common incontinence is, and it’s believed that incontinence goes underreported because many older adults think it’s a normal, unmanageable part of aging. It’s also likely that the embarrassing nature of incontinence causes many older adults to keep the symptoms and issues to themselves. 

While incontinence isn’t a serious medical condition, it’s unpleasant and can have an impact on quality of life, social engagement, and mental health. The good news is that it can often be prevented or controlled, and when it can’t, incontinence supplies can help older adults continue to go about their days normally. Unfortunately, Medicare does not cover incontinence supplies like adult diapers. Medicare may cover some incontinence treatments. The causes of incontinence can help determine the right treatment plan and medical coverage.

What causes incontinence?

Many things can cause incontinence. When incontinence lasts only for a short period, it’s often caused by:

  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)

  • Vaginal infection or irritation

  • Certain medications

  • Constipation

When incontinence lasts for a longer period, there are many potential causes, including:

  • Inflammation or enlargement of the prostate gland

  • Weak bladder or pelvic floor muscles

  • Overactive bladder muscles

  • Damage caused by chronic conditions like diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease

  • Cognitive issues that cause people to forget to go or be unaware they need to go to the bathroom

  • Mobility issues that make it challenging to get to the bathroom in time

Determining the cause of incontinence is important for developing the best treatment plan. 

Managing Incontinence

The first step to managing incontinence is consulting a doctor. Your doctor will help you determine the cause and best treatment plan. 

Incontinence treatments and supplies

Oftentimes, a combination of multiple treatments and supplies can help you manage incontinence and improve your quality of life. 

Bladder Control Training

Bladder control training involves physical and mental exercises that make it easier to “hold it” and get to the bathroom in time. Three common exercises are:

  • Pelvic muscle exercises (Kegel exercises) strengthen your pelvic floor, which helps you avoid leaks and accidents.

  • Urgency suppression involves mentally distracting yourself, holding still, taking breaths, or squeezing your pelvic muscles to help you control your urges and make it to the bathroom on time. 

  • Time voiding involves scheduling time to go to the bathroom. People often start by going to the bathroom every hour, then increasing the time between breaks to avoid accidents while they train their bodies. 

Behavioral and lifestyle changes

Some dietary changes like quitting smoking and limiting caffeine and alcohol can help reduce incontinent episodes. Limiting liquids before bed can support nighttime incontinence. Clearing the path to your bathroom at home and being aware of where the nearest bathroom is when you’re out are other small changes you can make to ensure you get to the bathroom on time. 

Medical Treatments

When bladder control training and lifestyle changes aren’t enough, medical treatments can sometimes alleviate the burden of incontinence. Medical treatments may include:

  • Medications

  • Medical devices like catheters that drain urine from your bladders and inserts that prevent or lessen leakage

  • Biofeedback sensors that increase awareness of natural signals your body sends when you need to go to the bathroom

  • Surgery for certain conditions like an enlarged prostate

Incontinence Supplies

Even with the best combination of treatments, you may still experience some incontinent episodes—or be afraid they could occur. In these instances, bladder control products like absorbent underwear, disposable underwear or diapers, and pads can help you feel confident to go about your day without a public episode. 

Medicare coverage of incontinence supplies and treatments

Does Medicare cover adult diapers?

Unfortunately, Original Medicare does not cover incontinence supplies and adult diapers. Some Medicare Advantage plans offer additional benefits that Original Medicare does not cover, but you’ll have to check your specific plan to understand how coverage works for incontinence supplies.

Does Medicare cover catheters?

Original Medicare (and Medicare Advantage) sometimes cover catheters and catheter-related supplies for incontinence if deemed medically necessary. Before getting your catheter inserted, speak with your doctor and check your specific insurance benefits to be sure your catheter will be covered.

Does Medicare cover incontinence drugs?

Original Medicare does not have any prescription drug coverage. Part D coverage through a stand-alone prescription drug plan or a Medicare Advantage plan with prescription drug coverage can include drug treatments for incontinence. When discussing incontinence drug treatment with your doctor, check your prescription drug plan's list of covered drugs to ensure coverage.

While Medicare doesn’t cover all incontinence supplies and treatments, it’s important for you to bring any issues with incontinence up with your doctor to discuss the best treatment plan. Your doctor can offer guidance on any medical issues that may be causing your incontinence—as well as bladder control training, lifestyle changes, and medications you can take to manage your incontinence. If you ever have any questions about your Medicare coverage, we’re here to help! Our team of Medicare advisors is here to help you get the most value out of Medicare, whether that means explaining your options, helping you choose the right plan for your needs, or using your benefits.

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